In yet another crisis for industry and the agri-sector in Punjab amid the COVID-19 curfew, as many as 3 lakh migrants have already applied to the state government to be repatriated to their home states.
The state has 10 lakh migrant labourers, according to a number given by the CM two days ago. Punjab had asked those willing to be repatriated to their states to apply online at http://www.covidhelp.punjab.gov.in.
The state’s control room had by late afternoon received requests from 2,83,223 migrants to leave the state. While earlier the deadline for applications was May 3, it was extended late on Saturday evening. “They can continue applying. There is no timeline as of now,” Ludhiana DC Pardeep Agarwal said.
In one application, a group of 25 persons can apply to move out. By 4.30 pm Saturday, the number of total applications had reached 1,04,303, through which 2,83,223 migrants had applied.
Sumeet Jarangal, nodal officer for helpline started by Punjab government, said, “This is unexpected response and numbers are increasing every minute. All of them will be screened before going to their parent state.”
Out of these applicants, the maximum persons are from Uttar Pradesh (1.44 lakh) and from Bihar (95,000) . These two states account for 84.7 per cent of the total migrants who want to move out. Jharkhand is another state with 4,760 of its natives wanting to leave Punjab, followed by 4,304 from J&K. The applications include migrants from 28 states and 7 UTs, including Delhi and Chandigarh.
Maximum of these applicants are working as labourers in industry, and are from Ludhiana.
From Ludhiana, there are 57,400 applications with 1.6 lakh migrants applying through them. Jalandhar has 33,000 migrants wanting to leave (11,084 applications). Further, 21,869 migrants want to leave Mohali for their home states, and have applied through 9,896 applications.
The list of applications has few students too, who were studying at some institutions in the state.
Industry in Punjab, meanwhile, is concerned over getting production units back on track if labourers go back to their native places.
“We have no resources to keep them. We just need 25 per cent of labour at this time. We cannot keep them here and pay them. But it is not advisable for them to go back. They will be in quarantine for 21 days at home and then when they come back here then they will be in quarantine for 21 days. Their 42 days will be gone. We expect that the industry will start functioning smoothly around June end. So they should be advised that there is no point going back,” said Badish Kumar Jindal, an office bearer of Small Scale Industries Association of Punjab.
D S Chawla, president of United Cycles Parts and Manufacturers Association (UCPMA), said, “Ludhiana is the bicycle hub of the country. But now when we have been asked to open units and nearly 80 per cent of industry can open, this exodus of migrants has begun. What is the government doing? We are not able to make out as whether they want us to run units or close our units? Apart from lakhs who have applied through the helpline, many others are ready with their bicycles and they are saying that they will reach Bihar or UP within a week. We have no idea as what is going to happen in the coming week.”
But not everyone believes that there will be a major exodus. Ram Prasad Yadav, former chairman, Parwasi Board, said,”I don’t think all will go, all those who are daily wagers will move out while the ones who have job security will stay back. Moreover, 30 per cent of migrants are now settled in Punjab. Industry too has to run on 50 per cent strength these days, I think they will be able to manage even if the migrants leave.”
Meanwhile, a directive from the government regarding the SOP to be followed before sending the migrants back says that they will be screened and given a certificate before leaving.
While the state is already grappling with 7,000 returnees from Maharashtra and Rajasthan, many among whom are testing positive, 5,000 more persons have applied to the government to be brought back home. The government has made the institutional quarantine of 21 days compulsory for the returnees. This would means that beside 7,000, the government would have to take care of 5,000 more persons. The government has directed that these returnees would have to make their own arrangements for coming back and unlike in the case of Nanded pilgrims, Jaisalmer labourers and Kota students, where the government sent AC buses to fetch them. The government has been facing criticism for sending AC buses to ferry back those stranded as the closed environments are known to spread the disease faster.
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